What goes around comes around — it’s an adage often used in sport but rarely can it have been as true as it was in Ennis last night for this Munster U21 hurling championship final.
Four years ago, same venue, same occasion, Clare were denied what seemed certain victory when, with the game tied, the referee incorrectly cancelled a late, late free for them in front of the posts and instead awarded Tipperary a 65 after Clare keeper Donal Touhy was (very harshly) deemed to have stepped outside the square when taking the previous puckout. The result was a 65 for Tipperary, pointed, and a bitter loss for Clare.
Yesterday evening, game gone into the first of the two signalled additional minutes, Clare trailing 0-16 to 1-14, substitute Cathal McInerney somehow worked his way deep inside the Tipperary red-zone, parted to another sub, Niall Arthur, who — though crowded from every side by Tipp defenders — somehow managed to get off the shot, which found its way untouched into the back of the net.
Cusack Park erupted, the vast majority in the announced 8,379 obviously drawn from the home county, but the roars were grounded as much in relief as in celebration.
Truth be told, it should never have come down to those late heroics. Right from the start Clare looked to be the better team — only marginally so, but still that bit ahead. Inaccuracy cost them, however, woeful inaccuracy, nine wides in a barren opening quarter before free-taker Conor McGrath eventually found the target.
By then Tipperary — having had their own early problems in front of the posts with three wides — had two points on the board, and dogged side that they are, kept their noses in front to the break at which stage they led 0-6 to 0-5.
Consider this; undersung they may be, not a senior star in sight, with centre-forward Sean Curran their lone senior panellist, but already in this Munster campaign Tipperary had gone to Páirc Uí Chaoimh and beaten a highly fancied Cork team, had gone to the Gaelic Grounds and been even more impressive in dismissing an even more highly rated Limerick 15. Taking on another star-studded team in their home ground then wasn’t going to faze them — these guys have already proven their character this season.
Their defence is outstanding, Andrew Ryan at full-back and Willie Ryan outside him anchoring a sextet against whom every score is a little triumph in itself. Credit to the Clare attack then that when they finally recovered their composure with ball in hand the points began to come. Roving corner-forward Cathal O’Connell (3), classy wing-forward Tony Kelly (2), and hard-working centre-forward Paudge Collins (1) all pointed, edging Clare in front for the first time in the game, 0-11 to 0-10, 46th minute.
Free-taker John O’Dwyer had been the main man in the scoring stakes for the Tipp men, though first-time starter Jason Forde did chime in with a beauty, as did sub Eanna Murray from wide left. The 48th minute, however, saw what seemed like the game’s most decisive score.
As tough as it was at one end for Clare to chisel out their scores, it wasn’t any easier for Tipperary against a Clare defence in which the all-senior half-back line of Seadna Morey/Conor Ryan/Patrick O’Connor proved a major barrier. In that 48th minute, however, that barrier was breached, Forde finding O’Dwyer with a perfect pass, and John’s perfect angled drive gave Ronan Taaffe no chance in the Clare goal.
Clare got back to parity again within a few minutes, Kelly and McGrath with pointed frees (0-13 to 1-10, 53rd minute), but three points from O’Dwyer and one from sub Aidan McCormack had Tipperary in that winning position, into injury-time — enter the sporting Gods, balancing the books.
Terrible way for Tipperary to lose, Munster Grand Slam ambitions also gone, but really, justice done on the night, the better team winning; justice done in the longer term also!
Scorers for Clare: T Kelly 0-7 (2f, 1 65); N Arthur 1-0; C O’Connell 0-3 (1f); C McGrath 0-3 (3f); P Collins 0-2; S Morey 0-1.
Scorers for Tipperary: J O’Dwyer 1-7 (3f); C Hogan 0-2; J Forde, D Maher, L McGrath, E Murray, A McCormack, 0-1 each.
CLARE: R Taaffe; P Flanagan, D McInerney, K Ryan; S Morey, C Ryan, P O’Connor; C Galvin, S Golden; A Cunningham, P Collins, T Kelly; C O’Connell, C McGrath (c), D O’Halloran.
Subs: C McInerney (O’Halloran 42); P Duggan (O’Connell 50); N Arthur (Cunningham 58). Blood sub: S O’Halloran (O’Connor 42/45).
TIPPERARY: P Ryan; S Maher, A Ryan, P Ryan; B Stapleton, W Ryan, J Cahill; D McCormack, N O’Meara; L McGrath, S Curran, D Maher; J Forde, C Hogan, J O’Dwyer (c).
Subs: E Murray (McCormack 41); A McCormack (Hogan 55); P Greene (Curran 59).
Referee: J Sexton (Cork)